The new mock trial season is well underway; teacher coaches and attorney advisors are meeting with enthusiastic students all across North Carolina. In the excitement of it all, it is good to step back for a moment and ask why so many students and adults are willing to devote countless hours to this activity. What makes mock trial so compelling that busy judges and attorneys will mentor teams of students and serve at competitions year after year? And why should YOU get involved?
In his best-selling book Start With Why, Simon Sinek proposes that successful organizations, movements, and individuals must first “start with why”: Instead of asking, WHAT should we do . . . the questions must be asked, WHY did we start WHAT we’re doing in the first place, and WHAT can we do to bring our cause to life? According to Sinek, your WHY is the underlying beliefs that drive your actions. Asking WHY brings clarity of purpose that inspires others to get involved because they catch the vision of a cause bigger than themselves. Focusing first on WHY helps individuals to develop the values and guiding principles, the HOW, to realize their vision. When your principles remain true to your underlying purpose, your results‚ WHAT you actually do‚ will achieve your goals, thereby revealing your purpose to the world.
Twenty-one years ago, under the visionary leadership of CCCE President M. Gordon Widenhouse, Jr., the Academy of Trial Lawyers (now the North Carolina Advocates for Justice) began operating the statewide mock trial program in order to help North Carolina high school students gain a greater understanding of our justice system. Our WHY and HOW are aptly summed up in the CCCE mission statement, which declares:
“The Carolina Center for Civic Education believes that teaching high school students about our justice system and trial-by-jury is crucial to preserving our rights as citizens. Our mission is to create engaged citizens through the hands-on learning activity of mock trial, thereby enabling students to gain the civic understanding, self-confidence, analytical reasoning, and communications skills that are vital for tomorrow’s leaders.”
Over the past two decades, thousands of students have reaped the benefits of the mock trial program. Listen to the words written by one student in: “Mock trial is the chance to be recognized as an individual in a team setting. It has been a way to grow so close to a group of such different people, working toward a collective goal. I can’t even express the rush it gives; I feel as though I am having so much fun, but working toward something important. Of course I understand the USA judicial system in a way I never did before, and now I feel more invested in the choices we make as a country, since I can now think about all the cases we hear about on news and read about in the paper in a logical way, and draw my own conclusions, rather than accepting other’s opinions. It feels like I am a part of something big – something real – that is relying on me. I have a place that requires me to think logically, and really stop to look at things objectively, while at the same time, I have an absolute blast. It has definitely brought me out of my shell – I am so excited to share that experience next year with incoming teammates. It has been the biggest and best thing I have ever taken part in.”
Many of our dedicated volunteers chose to enter the legal profession because they saw it as a way to make a difference in the lives of individuals. We are thankful for the amazing work that they do! In addition, the thousands of hours devoted by countless legal professionals to the mock trial program over the last two decades has made a tremendous impact on the lives of students in North Carolina. We are glad that so many dedicated, selfless legal professionals truly catch the vision — the WHY — of the mock trial program: investing in our future, creating tomorrow’s leaders!